Fordham Mock Trial: Debating Their Way to the Top


The 2015-2016 mock trial team placed sixth in their division at the National Championship Tournament. (PHOTO COURTESY OF FORDHAM LC MOCK TRIAL)


The month of April was an exciting time for the Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC) mock trial team. After qualifying for the 32nd American Mock Trial Association (AMTA) National Championship Tournament for only the third time in the program’s history, the team celebrated a victory of sixth place in their division at the competition. I sat down with Kavin Thadani, head coach of the FCLC mock trial program, and Nuwani Irizarry, FCLC ’16 and president of the mock trial program, to learn more about the program and its successes this year.

According to Thadani, the AMTA is the governing body of mock trial, meaning it is the main organization that connects the country’s undergraduate university mock trial teams together. Each August, the AMTA puts out a case problem, alternating yearly between civil cases and criminal cases, that includes several components, such as witness statements, pieces of evidence and documents. Throughout the year, the AMTA may tweak the case by adding a witness or changing facts to either enhance the case or fix errors.

In the fall, colleges and universities throughout the country compete in invitational tournaments to practice and hone their performance skills. FCLC’s two mock trial teams each compete in three tournaments during the first semester.

The official AMTA season begins in February. This year, 663 teams from over 300 schools (a school can have up to five teams, but many schools have just one) competed in regional tournaments across the country. The regional tournaments typically consist of about 20 to 30 teams with the top 192 teams advancing to the Opening Round Championship Series (ORCS) in March. There are eight ORCS tournaments, composed of 24 teams. The top six teams from each of those tournaments advance to the National Championship Tournament in April.

The National Championship Tournament consists of two divisions, the Larry D. Estridge Division and the Kirkland & Ellis Division, into which the teams are randomly divided. After four rounds of competition with five ballots in each round, the winners of each division advance to the final round.

This year, the FCLC mock trial team placed sixth in the Kirkland & Ellis Division, with a 10-5-5 record and ninth in the tournament overall. Neilab Rahimzada, FCLC ’16 and co-captain of the team, and Sandra Jovic, FCLC ’18, were awarded All-American awards, meaning they were ranked in the top 11 out of 144 students in their respective roles of attorney and witness.

The number of people on the FCLC team varies from year to year. According to Irizarry, this depends on graduating seniors, members deciding not to return or the number of freshmen that try out. This year, around 50 people tried out. “We typically end up with about 20 members every fall semester,” Thadani said.

Information sessions are usually held during the first week of school and tryouts are held on the first weekend. Tryouts include students preparing opening statements and  witness monologues. The coaching staff and the executive board evaluate and choose the team.

“We just can’t take everyone who tries out, so it’s a very selective process,” Thadani said. Irizarry noted that returning members aren’t necessarily guaranteed a spot.  

“At the beginning of year, we are gearing toward giving everyone as much experience as possible. People try witness and attorney roles; we try to give everyone a comprehensive experience. In the spring, we focus more on being as competitive as possible, so someone with more skill will take on more roles. For invitationals, performance doesn’t stop you from going forward, but by February, it’s make or break,” Thadani said. He added that the team would never take more students than they could, as to ensure that each member has the most rewarding and well-rounded experience possible.

The team holds tryouts very early to allow enough time for practice and training for new members who may need to learn new terms and rules. The tryouts are open to FCLC and Gabelli students of all majors.

“It’s one of the best experiences you can have on campus, regardless of if you want to be an attorney or not,” Thadani expressed, crediting this to the legal, critical thinking, public speaking and acting experience that mock trial provides. He noted that not everyone who participates in mock trial goes on to be a lawyer and that the program creates strong bonds and friendships.

Thadani is an FCLC graduate and an attorney for the New York City Law Department in the Special Federal Litigation Division. His experience on the team as an undergraduate student sparked his interest in coaching, and he has been on the coaching staff for four years, first as an assistant coach and then as a head coach.

“This year has been one of the best years in the program’s history. I hope people are getting a lot out of the experience and learning a lot. I think I learned more from mock trial than I did from any class. The students we draw are really passionate about it and you learn how to really perform and be persuasive, and it gives you that experience you can’t get in a classroom,” Thadani said.

Irizarry, who is graduating this month, said that mock trial is “the community [she has] really gotten closest with during [her] time at Fordham.” She added that the best part of mock trial were the competitions.

Besides the successes at the National Championship Tournament, Thadani noted that “just throughout the semester, one of our teams went undefeated at regionals and finished first place. The previous week, we won a very prestigious invitational tournament, Georgetown. We won 18 trophies this year, and throughout the year, we’ve won and placed at almost every tournament. We’ve also had 15 individual awards.”

Thadani encourages students to come to information sessions to learn about the program and to try out for the team. “We do a lot of traveling—that’s enticing to some people. [The program is] good for people who are very competitive, especially at a school where there aren’t a lot of opportunities to be in a competitive organization. And also we’re very successful, compared to other clubs or sports. We do really well, we win a lot, we’re very competitive and that’s because of the work we put in throughout the year, and I encourage people at least to enquire and think of it as an option,” Thadani said.

To learn more about FCLC mock trial, you can visit their informational website: